Lebanon’s Hezbollah Leader Criticizes Saudi Arabia, Deepening Rift
The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia verbally attacked Saudi Arabia in a Monday evening speech, accusing the Gulf kingdom of helping spread Islamic extremism around the globe and holding Lebanon “hostage.” Analysts say that Hezbollah’s sparring with Saudi Arabia deprives Lebanon of needed financial help.
Iran-backed Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah launched a broadside against the Saudi king in televised remarks. “Your highness the king, the terrorist is (the side) who exported Daesh ideology to the world and they are you,” Nasrallah said, referring to the Islamic State group, as known by its Arabic name. He also accused Saudi Arabia of sending Saudi suicide attackers to Syria and Iraq as well as for the war in Yemen.
Last week, Saudi King Salman urged the Lebanese to end what he called “the terrorist Hezbollah’s control” of Lebanon. Many Lebanese had hoped that the resignation of their former information minister would have ended the war of words between the two sides, but Nasrallah opened old wounds.
Habib Malik, history professor at the Lebanese American University, points to Shi’ite Hezbollah’s alleged attempts to proliferate drugs in the Gulf through fake fruit exports. He told VOA that Hezbollah also sends “regular trainers, weapons and personnel to Yemen to help the Houthi [rebels] against the Saudis” and it does Iran’s bidding in Lebanon.
“Nasrallah said that it’s Saudi Arabia that has been behind Sunni radicalism and Daesh, especially in Iraq. I’m not whitewashing the Saudi record either. There is some truth in that. But one form of violation doesn’t justify the other. This recurring attack on the Gulf and Saudi Arabia shows that Hezbollah could care less about the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese working in the Gulf who could easily be adversely affected by this kind of rhetoric, Malik said.
He also noted that “Hezbollah doesn’t care about Lebanon or its interests. Hezbollah is simply carrying out the instructions and directives of an alien foreign country whose aim is to expand at any cost in the region.”
Lebanon’s prime minister, Najib Mikati, criticized Nasrallah, saying, “It is not in Lebanon's interest to offend any Arab country, especially the Gulf states.”
Arab Gulf states have generously helped cash-strapped Lebanon in the past. Critics blame Hezbollah for damaging ties with the Gulf, which has stopped financial assistance due to Iran’s meddling in Lebanon’s affairs.
Over the past two years, Lebanon has experienced economic, political, fuel, power and social crises described by the World Bank as “the most severe in the world.” The Lebanese currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value and four out five Lebanese now live under the United Nations poverty threshold.
Political observer Baria Alamuddin, writing in the Saudi Arab News newspaper, attributes Lebanon’s worsening situation in part to Iran and Hezbollah, which, over the past 16 years, has wielded enormous influence. “Hezbollah dominates the state” she recently wrote, “but exists outside the principles and values of the state and undermines the state’s sovereignty and legitimacy.”